The Role of the Hearing Officer in a Michigan License Appeal

March 18, 2013

It has been a while since I wrote about the various DAAD (Driver Assessment and Appeal Division) Hearing Officers who decide Driver's License Restoration Appeals for the Michigan Secretary of State. Within the context of any given Michigan License Appeal, the Hearing Officer is really the most important person in the world, at least while your file is on his or her desk. This article will examine, in general terms, the role of the Hearing Officer and some of the more important differences and similarities amongst them.

In a previous, 2-part article, I took a sort of "anonymous" look at the 5 Hearing Officers at the Livonia branch of the DAAD, where I have all of my License Appeals heard. The same 5 Hearing Officers are still there, and nothing has changed in the time since I published those installments, so there is really nothing to update about them. Yet the whole concept of the role of the Hearing Officer is so critical to how I prepare my cases (and very relevant to why I provide a win Guarantee) that it needs to be reviewed from time to time.

Mystery Man 1.3.jpgIt's easy to get caught up in the fixed, almost mechanical requirements of a Michigan Driver's License Appeal. The process starts with a Substance Abuse Evaluation. I start by spending 3 hours with a new Client just to prepare them to undergo that Evaluation. Letters of Support need to be written, and I spend a lot of time "correcting" and editing them. When all of this paperwork has been completed and reviewed and made "just right," it's filed with the State and a Hearing date is eventually given. Part of the notification of the Hearing date is the assignment of the case to a particular Hearing Officer. The Hearing Officer is the opposite of fixed, or mechanical. Different Hearing Officers have different backgrounds, concerns, life experiences and perspectives that influence how they evaluate the evidence in and ultimately decide a License Appeal. The Hearing Officer is, in that sense, a fluid variable in a License Appeal.

To complicate that even more, you don't know who this "fluid variable" in your License Appeal case will be until AFTER it's filed. My job would be much easier if I knew, in advance, to which Hearing Officer any particular case would be assigned. Precisely because the assignment of cases is random (and that really is the only way to make it fair), I have to consider the idiosyncrasies of all of the 5 Hearing Officers before whom I have my cases heard as I prepare each one.

This means, for example, that if a person has used any potentially addictive or mind or mood altering medication after the date of their last drink, I have to prepare the case as if it might go in front of the one Hearing Officer most concerned about that issue (identified as "The Doctor" in the previous 2-part installment about Hearing Officers) and before whom every "I" must be dotted and every "t" crossed. Not doing so could be a fatal mistake, even though there is an 80% chance the case may be assigned to one of the other 4 Hearing Officers. This means I have to get the proper Doctor's letter before the case is ever filed, and make sure the Evaluator receives a copy so that she can include its analysis in her Evaluation.

Accordingly, considerations about the Hearing Officer are relevant even before the case is ever assigned to one. This is why I have all of my cases scheduled in Livonia, because at least I only have to keep a handle on 5, albeit 5 very distinct personalities. Fortunately, regular and repeat experience in hundreds upon hundreds of cases before them has exposed me to the gamut of how they see things. Even so, as each case I handle has its own story, or theme, I have to review it in light of the way each of the 5 different Hearing Officers will consider it. This means I have to make allowances for and prepare for certain things that there is only a 1 out of 5 chance that we'll actually have to deal with. To put it another way, I have to take into account things that there is an 80% chance will never come up. But doing things properly means doing just that...

In the prescription medication example, above, it is certainly true that depth of inquiry the one Hearing Officer ("The Doctor") would make in such a case is very different from what another Hearing Officer might conduct. In fact, I can imagine several situations where "The Doctor" would make a big deal out of something another Hearing Officer might not even bring up, if the matter was properly addressed in the Substance Abuse Evaluation. Yet because we cannot know to whom the case will be assigned in advance, I have to prepare for the "worst case scenario."

To lessen the confusion a bit, we should start off by pointing out that all of the Hearing Officers are going to ask a core group of the same questions. This is only logical. "When is the last time you consumed any alcohol?" is a guaranteed question no matter who is deciding a License Restoration Appeal.

Beyond that, each of the Hearing Officers has his or her own areas of particular interest. Even though those may be rather different from one Hearing Officer to the next, it might be helpful to reiterate why the Hearing Officer has his or her own particular concerns. In a License Appeal, a person has to prove, by what's called "clear and convincing evidence," that his or her alcohol problem "is under control," and (most important of all), "likely to remain under control." Thus, the Hearing Officer is trying to confirm that a person has really quit drinking, and that the person has essentially internalized the notion that they can never drink again. In a very real way, the Hearing Officer needs to make sure that a person is a safe bet to remain alcohol-free. The inquiry that satisfies them on that point (or not) will of course be rather individualized.

Once a case has been filed (and in my Office, that means it has been checked and re-checked first), it takes about 6 weeks to receive notice of a Hearing date, and the identity of the Hearing Officer to which it has been assigned. Once we know who will be deciding your case, it means that, when the time comes for our pre-Hearing "prep session," we will know exactly what will be coming, and how to prepare for it. As I have pointed out before, not only does each Hearing Officer have his or her own particular areas of concern, but some even have what amounts to one set of questions for someone who still attends AA, and a different set of questions for someone who does NOT go to AA. Accordingly, the facts of each case are an important part of preparing for the Hearing, and must be reviewed in light of which Hearing Officer will be conducting it.

Because Hearing Officers are people, they bring a decidedly human element to the License Restoration process. That human element is fluid, and messy, and, at times, can seem unfair or unpredictable. Fortunately, because I have all of my cases scheduled in Livonia, I can at least limit those variables to just 5 Hearing Officers, and I have a good handle on each of them. By knowing the Hearing Officers, I can make sure your case will meet the standards they expect, and will make sure you're ready for whomever will be deciding your Appeal. This, in turn, allows me to Guarantee a win in every case I take.